Mechanically, things are pretty straightforward. Every Puma is a 1.0-litre petrol at the minute, with a 1.5 diesel following and a hot version (I know, but if anyone can, Ford probably can) later still. The three-cylinder 1.0 comes in four different flavours: 94bhp and 123bhp pure internal combustion, and 123bhp and 153bhp mild hybrid.
It’s a very mild hybrid, basically an integrated starter/generator aimed at torque-filling the turbo lag at low revs and helping to reduce the CO2 figures, rather than making the Puma faster – although it does, a tiny bit. Producing 15bhp and 37lb ft, though, and mostly at low revs, not by much. Ford calls the system ‘mHEV’, whose capitals put rather too much emphasis on the ‘hybrid electric vehicle’ part of things and not enough on the ‘mild’ element, for me. Reminds me of the gambling industry’s ‘when the fun stops, stop’ campaign with ‘FUN’ written largest. This isn’t a car that ever goes anywhere under electric power alone, after all. Still, it all helps the numbers, and Ford thinks that by 2022 more than half of the cars it sells will be some kind of electrified. No news yet on a battery-electric or a plug-in electric hybrid version of the Puma.
There is room, though, for a bigger battery than the diddy li-ion one beneath the boot floor, an area that Ford is reserving for a few things: on pure-combustion cars, the option of a spare wheel (praise be). And on starter/generator cars, what it calls a ‘Megabox’. Don’t get too excited. But it’s a novel way of using some space.
The Puma gets a higher boot floor than a Fiesta, and if a battery isn’t taking up the whole space, you might as well use it for something. Here, it’s a square 80-litre plastic recess with a plughole in the bottom, so – finally – there’s a car with a place to put dirty boots that you can easily rinse out afterwards. And, I guess, Ford could just offer different box sizes played off against different batteries back there.
Anyway, I’ve tried the Puma in 153bhp form, and in ST-Line X trim, which is fairly near the top of the tree. Prices start at just over £20,000 but this one’s £23,645, for a car that can reach 62mph in 9.0sec and return 51mpg, according to its combined WLTP fuel cycle.
Inside, things are pretty businesslike. The dashboard has a fully digital instrument pack and an 8.0in touchscreen protruding from its centre, with Apple CarPlay at no cost. There’s half-spongy material on the door tops and some hard materials, too, and fit and finish overall are good – some chrome touches that could convince you they’re actually chrome. But if somebody took all the badges off and told you it was a Hyundai’s cabin, you’d believe it.
The seats are relatively flat but ergonomics are good and the engine, at idle, is quiet. This car’s a six-speed manual – they all are at launch, so we’ll have to talk autos another time – and easy to get rolling thanks to moderate pedal weights.
One of the things about driving a Ford is that there’s a curious, and usually welcome, consistency to most of what they make. So in a Puma, impressions come at you fast when you’re not expecting them. The first surprise is that the steering is curiously light, for a Ford, and operating in what feels like a mild advisory capacity only. I wondered if it was because there’d be too much torque steer if it was allowed to be less over-assisted, but there are driving modes and in Sport mode, where the steering is heavier, it’s fine.
Which is odd. I think it’s the first car in which I’d wilfully take the heavier steering option. Ditto, the top travel of the brake pedal is over-light. And the throttle progression, as you come off the clutch, is sometimes sharp – as if the starter/generator assistance isn’t quite integrated seamlessly. Otherwise, the engine’s smooth, quiet and endearingly thrummy, though.